TSR Chat with Rose Estes

MGibster

Legend
That's definitely not how she came across to me when I read that book. Her former employees generally felt that she cared about their well-being. She was not a great fit for TSR, but she managed it better than Gygax and the Blumes; Riggs specifically states that he couldn't find a single employee who preferred working under them.
Talk about some low hanging fruit. I do think it's about time Lorraine Williams' performance at TSR was re-evaluted. For years, she was the red dragon who put TSR to flame, but it wasn't until fairly recently that she's been given some of the credit for saving the company or running it successfully. I'm not going to argue she's perfect, she was responsible for TSR's financial structure which went down like a house of cards, but she's not the bugbear we all heard about either.

As far as Gygax goes, well, never meet your heroes I guess. Even though I've never had any hero worship for the guy, let's face it, I have some hard feelings about Cyborg Commando, I've always had some warm fuzzies for the guy for his involvment in creating D&D. But those warm fuzzies tend to go away whenever I learn about some of his behavior and it's like a cold splash of reality in my face.

Rose sounds absolutely delightful though.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I would say that you seem to have started with a thesis and are rejecting the evidence that doesn't fit with it. You started by claiming that Riggs painted an overall negative picture of Williams:

But now you are claiming that Riggs is biased towards Williams.
There's no contradiction there; Riggs definitely wanted to paint a positive picture of Williams. He just failed, despite trying his best. That's because the tale of why TSR failed is ultimately on her, and while he does dig up several anecdotes that paint her in a good light, there are more that paint her in the opposite manner. He can't really ignore that, though he certainly slants it.
Similarly, you highlighted the negative in the paragraph you cited, not the positive. I agree that bosses should not yell at employees; I find it odd that you use that to claim Williams was "toxic" but seem to minimize the same behaviour from Gygax. Who, to be clear, did a lot more than yell at Dave Arneson, for example.
Whether or not you think the positives outweigh the negatives is up to you. Personally, I think the sentiment of trying to say that good behaviors are justification for overlooking bad ones opens the door to enabling a lot of abuses to go unchecked, which is something I don't want for our hobby. We should be able to say that a toxic boss was a toxic boss, even if people want to minimize that by saying that her predecessor was worse (which strikes me as a stretch; the totality of the relationship between Gygax and Arneson is beyond the scope of this discussion – entire books have been written on it – but the issue of yelling allows for an apples-to-apples comparison; you (in the general sense of "you") can't write off what Fallone said while simultaneously holding the single anecdote about Gygax against him).
You also dismiss Riggs' point that he could not find a single person who preferred working in the Gygax/Blume regime...okay, so Riggs only counts when he makes a point that you agree with? Isn't that you very much cherry-picking evidence? And I found Riggs to generally be quite careful with his words around Gygax; there are a lot of negative stories about Gygax from an awful lot of sources.
You're mischaracterizing what I said before. Riggs' book is at its best when the author doesn't editorialize; the problem is that he does that a lot, and so it makes me extremely hesitant to put much faith in his assurances. Take a look at how, early in the book, he mocks the idea that "Saint Gary" couldn't have known that TSR was doing so badly just because he was in California (as I recall, Riggs makes a joke about not having telephones). A few chapters later, when discussing the history of TSR West, he directly states how that company's placement in California made it hard for it to keep abreast of what was happening at TSR headquarters. Things like that make it hard for me to take Riggs' personal assurances as being trustworthy.
Also, although Gygax was a minority partner he and the Blumes made decisions as a triumvirate, and Gygax had the opportunity to take majority control of TSR, waffling on it for months before the shares were finally sold to Williams instead, as documented in Game Wizards. Gygax was an abject failure at managing a company, as that book shows in exhaustively documented detail.
Have you read The Game Wizards? Because the picture it paints is far less stark than the one you're pointing out here. While it was certainly presented to the public that Gary and the Blumes made their decisions in concert, the actual state of things was much less sanguine. With regard to Gygax's shares, I'll quote from Jon Peterson's excellent Ambush as Sheridan Springs article (which formed the nucleus of The Game Wizards), where he notes that "On May 6, Brian and Kevin Blume did execute a severance agreement with TSR. When neither Gygax nor TSR made any further movement to acquire their position, they subsequently issued to TSR a “Notice of Intent to Sell and Offer to Sell” on July 22 which again declared their interest in selling their shares at $500 each, a price Gygax deemed unreasonable."

In other words, the "waffling" was due to the share price being beyond what Gary could reasonably afford. To say that he was an "abject failure" paints a picture that the reality doesn't reflect. Whereas even William W. Connors, who flat-out calls Lorraine Williams "a hero" in this interview, characterizes her as having "run the company into the ground."

When even your biggest supporters characterize your leadership that way, that's an abject failure.
And the OP cites Rose Estes who was there almost from the beginning and is scathing about Gygax. She is far from the first to recount similar details. Do we not believe her, either?
Notice that you've moved from "Williams wasn't so bad" to "Gygax was awful." Even if we grant the latter premise, that doesn't confirm the former.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend, he/him
As far as Gygax goes, well, never meet your heroes I guess. Even though I've never had any hero worship for the guy, let's face it, I have some hard feelings about Cyborg Commando, I've always had some warm fuzzies for the guy for his involvment in creating D&D. But those warm fuzzies tend to go away whenever I learn about some of his behavior and it's like a cold splash of reality in my face.
I just listened to the 4 episodes of the podcast When We Were Wizards, and boy the interview material with Mary Gygax was rough.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I disagree, unless you have a pattern of behavior with other employees and you know what Fallone means by "yelling."
I'm dubious that you can characterize a boss who yells at you not only "a lot," but to the point where it's routine enough that you "just got over it," can be questioned as "we don't know what he really meant by that."

Even then, when you also put that up against his saying that her own employees were scared of her, and that she didn't understand what her staff did, well...it paints a very bad picture no matter how you try and touch it up.
I have heated arguments with my boss because we have strong opinion and he respects my thoughts and that I challenge him. We have a great working relationship and wonderful work environment and culture in general. It also relevant that we have these arguments, but I haven't seen anyone else have them with him (we have about 35 employees over 3 offices). I can guarantee you that no one thinks we have a toxic boss or work environment. And I can contrast that to another boss I had (same company) that did create a bit of toxic work place until he retired.

What I read sounds more like my current boss versus my former boss.
So in other words, you and your coworkers weren't afraid of him. Which means that your work situation doesn't really sound comparable to what Fallone's describing.
Also, bad boss =/= toxic boss.
When you're getting into debating exactly how awful a particular boss was, that kind of seems like the underlying point has been established.
 

dave2008

Legend
I'm dubious that you can characterize a boss who yells at you not only "a lot," but to the point where it's routine enough that you "just got over it," can be questioned as "we don't know what he really meant by that."
All I know is my children often accuse my wife of yelling at them when all she is doing is telling them things they don't want to hear. One person's "yelling" is another's arguing. I don't know what he means by "yelling" and I don't know what other's thought of what happened. I need more to come to a conclusion.
So in other words, you and your coworkers weren't afraid of him. Which means that your work situation doesn't really sound comparable to what Fallone's describing.
Fallon didn't see they feared her, he said they were afraid to say no. That is not the same thing.
When you're getting into debating exactly how awful a particular boss was, that kind of seems like the underlying point has been established.
I don't think we are though. I personally don't feel confident I have an idea of what type of boss she was. I would suggest you don't know either.
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend, he/him
All I know is my children often accuse my wife of yelling at them when all she is doing is telling them things they don't want to hear. One person's "yelling" is another's arguing. I don't know what he means by "yelling" and I don't what other's thought of what happened. I need more to come to a conclusion.

Fallon didn't see they feared her, he said they were afraid to say no. That is not the same thing.

I don't think we are though. I personally don't feel confident I have an idea of what type of Boss she was. I would suggest you don't know either.
The kind of boss where some of her more prominent critics (namely, Jim Ward) were willing to work under her for over a decade.

My impression from all accounts was that she was a fairly normal boss, neither terrible nor great, and didn't have a deep understanding of the industry (and had trouble finding people who both had that and good business sense at the same time).
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
All I know is my children often accuse my wife of yelling at them when all she is doing is telling them things they don't want to hear. One person's "yelling" is another's arguing. I don't know what he means by "yelling" and I don't know what other's thought of what happened. I need more to come to a conclusion.
Right, but we have more. Admittedly, not about the yelling specifically, but about the overall workplace environment under her leadership, as you (sort of) acknowledge below:
Fallon didn't see they feared her, he said they were afraid to say no. That is not the same thing.
That's only part of what he said. Here's the full text of the quote with regards to fear:

I just think she didn't have the capacity to understand it, and people were so afraid of her. One thing I think she gets short shrift on is, her reputation was so great and almost mythologized where people were afraid to say no to her.


The second sentence says that people were afraid to say no to her, and admittedly he characterizes that as being due to her reputation. But even if we write that off (which I don't think we really can, but for this discussion we'll overlook that), that doesn't speak to the first sentence, which doesn't try to soften or explain the fact that people were (so) afraid of her. Full stop.

Now, I suppose you can say that the second sentence is an explanation of the first, placing it in greater context, but that's honestly not how it reads to me. He's saying that people were afraid of her, and as a parallel to that, he's also saying that they were afraid to say no to her. Take away the part about being afraid to say no, and they were still afraid of her.

Honestly though, even that feels like unnecessary nitpicking. If the people are afraid of the boss (and there's no suggestion that this was at the beginning of her career there, before she was a known element), then the reaction to that shouldn't be "we don't know what that really means." It should be "YIKES!!!"

But apparently that's just me.
I don't think we are though. I personally don't feel confident I have an idea of what type of Boss she was. I would suggest you don't know either.
I would suggest that the lived experiences of the people who worked for her are something that we should take seriously. You can choose to focus on the good over the bad, of course, but I don't think it's out of left field to say that when words like "afraid" and "yelling" come into the picture, "toxic" is the right label to apply.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
You don't know what Riggs "definitely wanted" to do.
His partisanship in his book's presentation makes his intentions very clear. You might not want to acknowledge that, of course, but he's not at all trying to hide his take on things.
Who is editorializing?
Riggs. Also, I'll note that I'm openly stating that this is my opinion, and that I'm not writing a book that purports to present itself as factual.
The tale of why TSR failed is ultimately on Gygax and the Blumes every bit as much as on Williams. Frankly, she bought TSR an extra decade; it was going bankrupt when she took control. Of course, she bought that extra decade through doubling down on some unsustainable publishing practices based on the weird Random House deal that Gygax negotiated, so it's not like she was a management genius. But if it wasn't for Williams TSR was dead in 1985.
"As much"? No. There's blame to go around, that's for certain, but to say it can all be distributed equitably is not the case. Gary was, almost from the beginning, in a cold war to try and set the direction for TSR. He absolutely made mistakes, and there were issues with his leadership, but at the end of the day it was never all on him. Williams, however, had total control, and still wasn't able to last any longer than the Gygax/Blume leadership had been.

Likewise, the idea that "TSR was dead" in 1985 is a bit of a mischaracterization. The company absolutely had more debts than assets, but Gary's plan for turning the ship around was to try and release more content (which is why we got the hastily-released Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures that same year). Whether or not that would have worked is unclear; it's likewise a counterfactual to speculate as to whether or not someone else would have stepped in and purchased the company, but it's not unthinkable; Williams herself thought that TSR and D&D were still financially viable, and given the game's fame at the time it's not hard to see someone else thinking the same, so we shouldn't pretend it was either Williams or TSR and D&D vanishing into history.
Except no one has called her a toxic boss except you, based on very selective reading of evidence. Re-read Rose Estes' description of Gygax for a a description of a toxic boss! And I didn't write anything off; I stated that yelling at employees is always inappropriate. People are complicated, and you citing one piece of evidence while ignoring the others that don't fit your thesis doesn't convince me that Lorraine Williams was a "toxic boss." Again, we have far, far more examples of Gygax behaving in toxic ways (c.f. the OP) than Williams, and Riggs specifically asked staff to compare them. They preferred working under her, though you seem to be effectively accusing Riggs of lying about this.
The reading isn't selective; as I've said, I'm of the opinion that putting forward the idea that the positive somehow make up for the negatives isn't one that I agree with, as it makes excuses for a bad work environment. "Toxic" is absolutely the right word, in my opinion, for a boss whose employees describe by using words like "afraid of" and "yelled, a lot." The evidence that she was a good person who did good things isn't being ignored; it's being found as not an excuse.

Saying that "Gygax did it too!" doesn't mean that Williams is any less culpable for how she acted, so I'm honestly not sure why you keep bringing that up.
Riggs is far from the only person to have touched on Gygax basically abdicating his responsibilities while in California, and I don't really want to get into the many sordid details. Let's just say that there are many, many accounts of Gygax embracing what we could politely call a Hollywood lifestyle during his mid-life adventure and leave it at that. Frankly, I think Riggs handles that aspect of the story with kid gloves.
The issue isn't that Riggs touched on Gygax's time in California lightly. It's that he makes a mockery of the idea that "distance = being out of touch" with regards to Gary's relationship to TSR headquarters, and then affirms it with regards to TSR West's relationship to TSR headquarters. He isn't consistent, and taken together with things like his repeatedly referring to Gary as "Saint Gary," it gives reason to look askance at things that he personally assures the readers of. Partisanship erodes trust.
Yes, and in Game Wizards Peterson goes into much more detail about Gygax hemming and hawing on the issue, and that Gygax absolutely could have afforded to buy the shares. Gygax simply wouldn't commit. Then the sellers became frustrated, and Williams put her money where her mouth was.

Untrue, as Peterson documents. He could afford it; he didn't want to pay it.
I feel like there's a bit of hair-splitting going on in your assertion that he definitely could have afforded to purchase those shares. Even if we grant that proposal, there's a difference between what someone could afford and what's a reasonable price. I can afford a lot of things if I, for instance, sell my house to finance the purchase. That's by no means something that's reasonable.

But really, the entire issue with Gary's missed opportunity to buy the Blumes out is something of a digression, largely with regards to the issue of characterizing Williams as having "stolen" the company. Opinions will vary with regard to her having cut a deal with the Blumes to buy the company from them after Gary was the one who brought her on board in the first place. That doesn't change how the working environment under her leadership has been described.
Yeah, she she definitely did. Ten years after saving it from Gygax and the Blumes running it into the ground.
I'm glad we can agree that she definitely ran the company into the ground, establishing that in that regard she was (at the very least) no better than the people she bought the company from.
But no one has disputed that she led TSR into insolvency. Yet Gygax and the Blumes previously did the exact same thing, which is how she was able to buy it.
Since you previously characterized Gary's tenure as an "abject failure," and now are equating Williams' tenure to his, does that mean you'd also describe her as an "abject failure" as well?
People are complicated, and I don't think that "Gygax was awful." I think that Williams gets way too much heat whereas Gygax gets way too little. There are far, far more stories about Gygax treating people miserably than Lorraine Williams (again, c.f. the OP). [...] People are complicated, and both of these people have some serious flaws. But I think Williams is often very unfairly vilified, and I think Gygax is often unfairly lionized.
And really, this is where I think we disagree. While I agree that Gygax's successes have been deservedly lauded, I don't think there's ever been any lack of detractors pointing out his mistakes, flaws, and failings; if you read Playing at the World, you'll notice that even as early as 1975, one year after D&D came out, hobbyists and fans were already giving him grief for his take on things...oftentimes deservedly so. Whether or not his successes outshine his failures is up to each individual to determine for themselves.

Much of this can also be said of Williams, of course. I've personally noted on these forums that she was the impetus for the product that got me into D&D. She's absolutely, as I said before, not a caricature. But she too has a lot of stories that paint her in a bad light ("I did not witness this but was told it independently by two higher-ups whom I trusted. Lorraine once got pissed at something done by the head of the book department at TSR. She called the dept head into a meeting of all the execs, called her a "stupid, useless cow," and fired her on the spot."), and in my opinion the negatives outweigh the positives. YMMV.
 
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